The system of forcibly removing people from the UK needs a “complete and radical overhaul”, human rights campaigners have said, London’s Evening Standard reports.
Home Secretary Theresa May should introduce monitors on each and every removal flight and reconsider the use of private contractors, Amnesty International UK said.
The campaign was backed by the widow of Angolan national Jimmy Mubenga, who said her husband would still be alive today if independent monitors had been present when he collapsed on a plane at Heathrow Airport while being removed last October.
Adrienne Makenda Kambana said: “If someone had been monitoring how Jimmy was being treated on that flight, I’m sure he’d still be alive today.
“The other passengers said he was crying out for help.
“The system must change to stop this happening again. No-one should have to go through what me and my family have suffered, and no-one should be treated like my husband was that night in October.”
Amnesty called for the Government to consider the systems used in other European countries such as Germany where law enforcement personnel are used for enforced returns of individuals, including those who have overstayed their visas and foreign national prisoners.
G4S, which employed the three officers on Mr Mubenga’s flight, said just six out of 186 complaints alleging assaults while it had the deportation contract were substantiated and insisted its officers “always operated to the highest possible standards of safety and welfare”.
But Oliver Sprague, arms, security and policing programme director at Amnesty International UK, said: “Ill-trained and unaccountable staff should not be carrying out enforced removals and it is little wonder there are so many reports of improper treatment.
“The death of Jimmy Mubenga was a tragedy waiting to happen.
“Anyone conducting removals must be properly trained and independently monitored or we will have more deaths and more mistreatment.
“The Home Secretary should look at best practice from other EU countries which use state law enforcement staff for removals. Numerous reports – from the Government and independent organisations – have raised concerns about the use of private contractors for this work.”
He went on: “We acknowledge that the UK government does need to remove some people from the country. But there is no reason why this cannot be done safely and with respect for people’s basic rights.”
The campaigners’ call follows a report in March last year which found that asylum seekers who claimed they were assaulted by private security staff did not have their complaints properly investigated.
But the report, by Baroness O’Loan, the former Northern Ireland police ombudsman, rejected the claim of systematic abuse.
And in August 2009 Dame Anne Owers, the then-chief inspector of prisons, warned of a lack of safeguards in the removals process with “inconsistent” treatment of migrants being put on planes home.
Mr Mubenga, 46, was being escorted by three guards from G4S care and justice services when he collapsed on the plane on October 12.
A G4S spokeswoman said: “The tragic death of Jimmy Mubenga in October was the first death in custody experienced by our immigration escorting business and resulted in the immediate suspension of the three custody officers involved.
“We welcome the National Offender Management Service review into this area and remain committed to ensuring the safety of all detainees held in our care on behalf of the Home Office.”
David Banks, group managing director for G4S care and justice services, told MPs the firm had received 186 complaints over its use of the techniques since it took over the role from the police in 2003, with six of these being substantiated after inquiries by the UK Border Agency (UKBA).
These included an “inappropriate neck hold” in 2006 and an instance of “inappropriate force” in 2009, which involved leg strikes being used to dress a detainee last year, he told the Commons home affairs select committee last November.
The G4S spokeswoman added that over the years its training programmes “have increasingly placed a large emphasis on de-escalation techniques and well-developed interpersonal skills” with control and restraint techniques only being used “as a last resort”.
Its employees could only use Home Office-approved techniques and on the “rare occasions” where use of force was required, this was reported to the UK Border Agency within 24 hours and was subject to review, she said.
“We have always operated to the highest possible standards of safety and welfare for those people in our care,” she added.
“Between 2005 and April 2011, G4S employees provided security, care and welfare to immigration detainees on over one million occasions.
“Over that time our employees frequently worked in very challenging circumstances, dealing with distressed detainees who on some occasions resisted deportation.”
Seb Stewart, managing director of Reliance Security Task Management which replaced G4S as the provider of deportation services in May, told Amnesty: “You will be aware that the Home Office sets policy in this area and at this stage I do not wish to comment.”
Immigration minister Damian Green said: “Those with no right to remain in the UK are expected to return home voluntarily. Where they do not we may enforce their removal.
“Removals contractors operate within a clear legal framework and to high standards set by the UK Border Agency.
“We are, however, currently conducting a fundamental review of the restraint techniques used on aircraft to see if they can be made safer.”
Amnesty criticised a technique known as “carpet karaoke” in which a seated detainee has their head pushed down between their legs so they are only able to scream inarticulately “like a bad karaoke singer”.
But G4S has denied that any of its techniques involved pushing a detainee’s head between their legs, telling MPs the only technique used involved “lifting their head up”. Source: Evening Standard.
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